‘Delay to hear a case is a human rights violation,’ says Chief Justice Francis Korkpor as he lashed out at judges for not executing their judicial duties timely -- resulting in overcrowded prison facilities across the country.
Chief Justice Korkpor, who is expected to step down this year, having reached retirement age, has in the past been blunt about the ‘rottenness' of the judiciary – and this time around, his rare revelation comes at a time when across the country has issued a plea for state security protections on grounds that judges' lives are under threat as a result of the nature of their job.
Among the many problems with the Judiciary is the issue of corruption that has beclouded it – and just last year, Associate Justice Yusuf D. Kaba made it clear to the public that the Judiciary is the “Black Cow” of the government — warning judges to change their behaviors or risk losing public confidence, something he said would cause chaos in the country.
Our law provides
Separately, the Chief Justice went on record decrying the involvement of judges in bribery and cautioned them to desist from the practice because it tarnished the image of the judiciary. And now, he has gone a step further to accuse judges of failing to execute their judicial duties in a timely fashion as they keep in jail individuals accused of a crime in jail over the period allowed by statute without trial – a practice he says amounts to the human rights violation.
"Our law provides for speedy trial; there are adequate provisions of law for the adjudication of cases,” the Chief Justice noted while delivering his charge at the opening of the May Term of Courts for the Criminal Courts at the Temple of Justice in Montserrado County. “It is unacceptable and a human rights violation. These are some of the things that are causing overcrowding at prison facilities.
“This needs to stop. It has divided the family. And parents are no more able to provide for their kids, to pay their school fees, and even house rent, because of the failure to afford them a speedy and fair trial," Chief Justice Korkpor added. "This paints a negative picture of our justice system."
The plea from Chief Justice Korkpor comes a month after the US State Department re-echoed its accusation against the Liberian judiciary for not providing a defendant an expeditious trial, as provided by law. The State Department in its 2021 Human Rights Report on Liberia, argued that the use of detention as a punitive measure and the failure of judges to assign court dates are among the problems that have all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention.
“Pretrial detainees accounted for approximately 63 percent of the prison population across the country and 83 percent in the Monrovia Central Prison,” the report said. “In some cases, the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime.”
Also, Chief Justice Korkpor's remarks about speedy trial come at the time, when he and his colleagues at the level of the Supreme Court are yet to issue any ruling as it relates to the ethical transgression case against judge Eva Mappy Morgan, Chief Judge of the Commercial Court.
Judge Morgan after being investigated by the Judicial Inquiry Commission ( JIC), issued a one-year suspension without pay and benefits but the Chief Justice Korkpor bench is yet to decide on the JIC findings which is being challenged in court by the judge. The JIC is an arm of the Supreme Court with the responsibility to investigate alleged unethical conduct of judges.
Meanwhile, Judge Ousman Feika, who is the assigned Judge of Criminal Court ‘D’ has also issued a rally call, as he reminds his colleagues that the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental and protected “under the law.”
Judge Feika added "justice delayed is justice denied" and "We are therefore under obligation as judges to ensure that cases brought to court are expeditiously assigned and heard within a reasonable time, to accord justice to whom justice is due."
Judge complained of alarming prison congestion
Elsewhere, in Nimba County, while opening the May term of Court, Judge Roland Dahn complained of alarming prison congestion at the Sanniquellie Central Prison, urging lawyers to dwell on substantive issues and avoid filing a motion/bill that will continue to keep the prison congested.
“Every term of the court has about 42 days and if there is too much filing of motion or bill, it will likely undermine the trial period or jurisdiction, leaving the court to underperform in terms of adjudication of cases. If we have to succeed or help our people, then we need to manage our time to carry on speedy trials,” he said.
He explained the continued filing of motions of some cases for the reason of inadequate evidence or other reasons by lawyers will continue to keep their clients in prison, resulting in prison congestion.
The Resident Judge of Nimba County explained that some of the cases on the trial docket are high profile cases that require trial and the fate of the perpetrator is determined by law, instead of putting the perpetrator behind bars. Judge Dahn, who is serving his fourth consecutive term, argued that cases such rape, armed robbery, and even aggravated assault require speedy trial, and the perpetrators are not required to be free on bail immediately.
“No funding for the county attorney to bring people to court is also hampering speedy tried,” he said.
However, Cllr. J Adolphus Karnuah, a prosecutor with the Ministry of Justice, has said, “the ministry cannot be blamed for the congestion, rather all actors, including judges, defense and county attorneys."
Also, the defense lawyers in Nimba have cited, among other problems, delays on the part of Judges to present the cases' listing as some factors responsible for the congestion of the court docket and slow trial.